A father and son kidnapped while waiting in Mexico as part of a Trump-era policy that barred asylum seekers from entering the United States were allowed to enter the country on Wednesday. They were among the first to be admitted since the Biden administration announced last week that it would start taking in some migrant families who had been excluded from the policy.
Jos, 29, crossed the border shortly after sunrise in Brownsville, Texas with his 4-year-old son Santiago asleep in his arms wearing a blue mask.
We have just entered. Thank God, we did it, Jos said. I have no words to express the joy I feel now, to be able to join my family.
It had been 20 months since the father and child, originally from Honduras, presented themselves to the American authorities at the border and applied for asylum. They were turned away and said they could return for hearings in their asylum case, but the Trump administration subsequently sealed the border and closed immigration courts due to the coronavirus pandemic. This left them, along with thousands of other migrants, waiting for months in Mexican towns along the border, often victims of violence, theft and extortion.
Jos and his family fled Honduras when gangs demanded a war tax from the business they operated there, a car wash. Joss’s wife Cindy, who had a visa, and their eldest son, who is a U.S. citizen, were able to make it to New Jersey, but Jos and Santiago, who did not have a visa, applied for asylum at the border and were forced to stay in New Jersey. Mexico.
They were abducted from a street in Reynosa, Mexico in November 2019 by thugs who were apparently looking for money. As his son watched, Jos was beaten with bats by his captors, who threatened to kill him until his wife, listening on the phone, paid the ransom.
Both men continue to fear for their safety if their full names are released.
During the nearly two years they spent in Mexico, they lived in two shelters, an abandoned structure and on the street.
On Wednesday, father and son were treated at the US border and met by an American volunteer who took them to a nearby hotel. They then made arrangements to join Cindy in New Jersey.
The nightmare is over, thank goodness, said Cindy. I couldn’t sleep all night.
The Trump administration introduced the Stay in Mexico program, officially called the Migration Protection Protocols, in December 2018 for migrants seeking to cross the California border, and extended it to the entire southwest border l ‘Next year.
The policy aimed to stop the influx of Central American asylum seekers fleeing violence and extreme poverty and arriving in large numbers at the border, and to deter more people from heading north. . Trump administration officials said many migrants were trying to play with the asylum system with frivolous demands.
Some 67,000 people, mostly families, have been enrolled in the program.
Human rights defenders have attacked the policy, which they said endangered families who had to wait in Mexico and strayed from the long-standing practice of allowing most migrants who request l asylum to live in the United States pending a decision on their case. The policy also created an additional hurdle for migrants with complicated asylum cases, as most could not reach lawyers on the US side of the border.
Stranded migrants have invaded shelters in Mexican border towns. Hundreds of people lived in tents at the foot of a bridge leading to Texas from Matamoros, Mexico, creating a makeshift refugee camp.
The policy has survived several legal challenges. Then in March 2020, President Donald J. Trump put an even bigger obstacle in the path of asylum seekers, invoking the coronavirus crisis and sealing the border. Thousands of asylum seekers have given up and returned to their countries of origin, according to lawyers who have worked with the migrants, leaving around 25,000 people still officially awaiting treatment.
On January 20, the first day he took office, President Bidens suspended new registrations to the program and on February 1, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to overturn pleadings in a case challenging the policy.
On Tuesday, the administration confirmed it would begin processing some asylum seekers waiting in Mexico, but stressed the border remained closed to other migrants as part of the pandemic emergency measure.
We warn those seeking to immigrate to the United States that our borders are not open and that this is only the first phase of administrations’ work to reopen access to an orderly asylum process, the statement said.
Migrants enrolled in the Migration Protection Protocols program will need to register online before approaching the border. Only 300 asylum seekers per day will be allowed to enter the country, with priority given to those deemed to be the most vulnerable, for health or security reasons, and who are waiting the longest in Mexico. Once processed, they will be allowed to travel inside the United States, to live with family or friends, while their immigration cases go to court.
Joss’s ordeal began as he walked down Reynosa Street. The assailants pulled a hood over his head and pushed him and his son into a vehicle. After blindfolding him and tying his eyes, the kidnappers asked him to contact relatives or acquaintances in the United States to pay a ransom if he wished to come out alive. As the child cried and cried, the men beat Jos with a bat, kicked him and pushed his head into a bucket.
It was only after Cindy transferred $ 2,000 from New Jersey to them that the attackers let them go.
After being released, Jos went to the US port of entry and pleaded for permission to enter the United States, due to his fear of remaining in Mexico. But following a telephone interview with an asylum officer, he was told that he had failed to establish a clear likelihood of persecution or torture in Mexico, and he was told to stay there- low.
Santiago developed severe asthma and separation anxiety, according to Jos and his lawyer, who asked a pediatrician to examine the child. Both were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The lawyer applied for humanitarian parole that would have allowed him to enter the United States despite previous findings, but the government did not respond. Jos became a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Stay in Mexico policy.
He continued to make repairs at the Matamoros shelter, where he and his son shared a room with around 15 other fathers and children subject to Trump’s border policies.
On Tuesday, Joss’ attorney, Haiyun Damon-Feng, was informed that Joss’s parole application had been granted to the first of his clients who were enrolled in the Trump-era program.
So many people are in incredible danger, said Damon-Feng, who teaches at the University of Washington Law School. Anything we can do to facilitate the release of vulnerable people, we must use all means to do so.
On Tuesday, Jos and his son were dropped off at the border before sunrise. Jos was carrying an orange suitcase with their few things, their birth certificates and, draped over his shoulder, Santiago.
A border official seemed to know they would come, he said. We were expecting you yesterday, he remembers the official saying. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?
They were given apple juice, orange juice, two packets of cookies and two bags of chips. The father and son then continued on their way.
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